Oxfordshire during the Second World War: Our February 2022 Evening Talk

Wychwoods Local History Society Eveing Talk

Our February 9th 2022 evening talk was held in the village hall, with a lively attendance of 45+ members and guests. Our speaker, Stephen Barker looked at the impact on, and connections to Oxfordshire during the Second World War.

Questions and feedback observations were lively among the group, and as seems now typical, we had to end our evening with a feeling that there was much more in our collective memories to recall. Perhaps another time?

Oxfordshire during the Second World War: Summary

Reflecting on the fact that it is now 80 years since key moments in the Second World War – Alamein for example, and the fall of Singapore – Stephen took an approach which was based on “impressions” around some key topics, and made very interesting use of a combination of still images and video/audio clips as part of this idea.

So we heard for example, Chamberlain’s 3rd September 1939 address to the nation that “we are at war with Germany”, and we heard Anthony Eden’s announcement of the formation of the Local Defence Volunteers, specifically to address the ever present threat of invading troops landing by parachute.

Thus the talk evaluated the ‘home front’ and also many other significant events in which Oxfordshire people were involved. Amongst other things, it touched on evacuation, POWs, airfields, refugees, everyday life, rationing, war work, as well as D-Day, Pegasus Bridge, and the Liberation of Bergen Belsen.

Beginnings of War

Having set the scene for the beginnings of war, we heard personal stories of individual children who were part of the throng of evacuees who came from London on the very day that war was declared. These were moving stories of separation, where children had often not been told of the reasons for them being uprooted from their families.

London WW2 Evacuees arriving at Chipping Norton
The arrival of teachers and children from West Ham at Chipping Norton station on 1 September 1939, with gas masks and labels. See also our “That’s How it Was” Publication here

The Home Guard in Oxfordshire

In discussion of the Home Guard, it was clear that the response to the call from the men of Oxfordshire exceeded expectations, and thousands applied to be part of initiative. Thames bridges, and particularly the Oxford Canal were a stop line of defence in case of a channel invasion, and so needed to be manned and defended at all costs. And of course, airfields such as those at Abingdon, Brize Norton and Benson were all to be protected, patrolled and managed.

Bombs and Raids

We had several pictorial illustrations of the effect of bombing in the county. Upwards of 4,000 bombs fell in total with 20 deaths, including the infamous October 1940 Dornier raid on the railway and gasworks in Banbury where 6 men were killed, and much damage caused. We were reminded of the target, which was Banbury’s aluminium processing factory where up to 60% of the war effort’s requirement for Spitfire and Lancaster airframes were fulfilled. To confuse the enemy, a complete dummy replica of these works was made some way out of town.

Industry, Factories and Munitions

The importance of the Metal and Produce Recovery plant at Cowley was an eye-opener for some [Interesting BBC archive here: Memories of the Home Front in Oxford ].

As well as repairing stricken aircraft to get them flying again, Cowley also had vast spaces dedicated to recycling and cannibalising wrecked aircraft, and also had its pressed steel factory as part of the Nuffield complex.

Women at War

The role of Oxfordshire women in the war years was also illustrated, including images of “Make do and Mend”, knitting circles and domestic workers, as well of course as the role of Land Girls. Some discussion around the portrayal of Land Girls in the 1990s novel by Angela Huth and its associated movie, which focussed on the love lives of these women. This may or may not have been authentic or realistic!

Land Army Activity WW2
Dorothy Treweeke on a tractor outside Hill Crest, Bruern Road (1944). See also our “That’s How it Was” Publication here

The important work of World War Two women is encapsulated in the example which Stephen gave of Mary Ellis, born Mary Wilkins on 2 February 1917, in Leafield, who was one of a group of women who delivered Spitfire aircraft from factory to their squadron headquarters.

Prisoners of War in Oxfordshire

With over a half million prisoners of war in the country, Oxfordshire had its fair share. We heard stories of children accompanying POWs to work in the fields, and of a group of Italians tasked to build their own POW camp. Several members of our audience had their own stories of growing up with domiciled POWs who had married and settled to life in Oxfordshire village, and indeed stories of American GIs who were dealing with the culture shock of “two nations divided by a common language”.

Military Adventures and Engagement

Finally, the role of the Oxfordshire military was illustrated by two important engagements. On 6 June 1944, Pegasus Bridge was the objective of members of D Company, 2nd (Airborne) Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. This was a glider-borne force who were part of the 6th Airlanding Brigade of the 6th Airborne Division during Operation Tonga in the opening minutes of the D-Day Allied invasion of Normandy. The successful capture of the bridges played an important role in limiting the effectiveness of a German counter-attack in the aftermath of the Normandy invasion.

Meanwhile, a sobering note was the reminder that the first British military unit to go into Bergen-Belsen on 15 April 1945 was the 249 (Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Battery of the 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery.

Celebrations and Aftermath

Stephen’s talk ended with illustrations of VE-Day celebrations and a reminder of the many remaining artifacts and evidence of wartime activities which abound in the county, including pillboxes, Anderson shelters and the still substantial remains of Finmere Airfield near Bicester. These reminders were echoed by the observations by several audience members of their own memories of now gradually disappearing mementos of a wartime landscape.

About Stephen Barker

Stephen is an independent Heritage Advisor who works with museums, universities, and other heritage organisations to design exhibitions and make funding applications.

He worked at Banbury Museum and Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum. Stephen has delivered projects for University of Oxford, Oxford Brookes University, and the Battlefields Trust. He delivers presentations and tours related to the First World War and British Civil Wars. He is a Trustee of the Bucks Military Museum Trust, the Old Gaol, Buckingham and is an Arts Council Museum Mentor. He is the author of ‘Lancashire’s Forgotten Heroes’ – the 8th East Lancs in the Great War.

More about Stephen here:

The Development of Primitive Methodism: October 2021 Talk

The society’s first talk of the 2021/22 season was held in the Village Hall – our first opportunity to meet socially since early 2020 and the beginning of the Covid restrictions. An attendance of 25+ made for an enjoyable gathering. The speaker was David Young on the subject of the founding and development of Primitive Methodism in the 19th Century.  The success of the evening was demonstrated by the fact that we ran out of time before we ran out of questions – a sure sign that the group had been fully engaged.

Though David’s focus was on the growth of the movement in Northern Hampshire, the story is one which certainly influenced life in villages throughout the country. In our case, the Primitive Methodists established a firm foothold in the Wychwoods area from the 1830s onwards, their main local chapel being built in Milton in 1834, followed by the new chapel of 1860, still standing in The Square. In 1851 their regular weekly attendance was reported to be 110 people. For nearly 100 years they were a significant feature of life in our area; there were also Primitive Methodist Chapels locally in Lyneham, Fifield, Chilson, Churchill, Burford, Charlbury and Chipping Norton.

David’s talk charted the character of the Primitive Methodist movement, summarising the influence of leading preachers – male and female – as he did so. We learned that Primitive Methodism broke out from within Wesleyan Methodism. Its birthplace was in an area on the Staffordshire and Cheshire borders. A day-long open-air meeting of prayer and preaching took place on Sunday 31st May on a hill called Mow Cop, and it is generally accepted that this was the starting point from which all else followed. Dramatic and charismatic in style, the effects of such “camp meetings” as they were called disturbed the Wesleyan authorities. When such meetings proliferated in other locations, the movement was disowned and so became separated from the parent body.

Additionally, we learned that government authorities were wary of such gatherings and their effects – this after all was an age which had seen uprisings and the politics of revolution at home and abroad, and such large and impassioned gatherings were looked on with concern. Leading preachers, we learned, were John Ride, Thomas Russell, Edward Bishop, all of whom were imprisoned for their preaching.

John Ride “The Apostle of Berkshire”
Thomas Russell who with John Ride was largely responsible for the spilling over of the movement from Berkshire and Hampshire to Oxfordshire

This was evangelical Methodism and true revival, with many conversions especially (in Hampshire) among agricultural labourers, the word ‘primitive’ denoting their intention to be loyal to the original (that is primitive) Methodism of John Wesley.

The revival movement spread from Mow Cop to Wiltshire and Berkshire into Hampshire, first in the Bourne Valley, then to Micheldever, near Winchester and (from Reading) the Silchester area.

Progress into Hampshire developed from the establishment of “Circuits”. These were focal points of evangelical activity, exemplified on the Berkshire/Hampshire border by the Great Shefford Circuit in 1831 which was the centre of 60 “preaching places” – often homes or barns – and could count almost 1300 followers by 1833. A major highlight of the expansion Eastwards and Southwards was an 1834 camp meeting at Micheldever, which attracted 5-6,000 people and which was a beacon which established the Basingstoke Circuit, a circuit in which Elizabeth Smith was firmly involved, one of many named female preachers of the times.

Oakley Hampshire a typical Primitive Methodist village chapel
Oakley Hampshire: a typical Primitive Methodist village chapel

David’s talk took us through images of the many chapels which were built to house the growing congregations in villages he had personally visited, and demonstrated often with good humour, the character of the work carried out in these places.

Much more of the history of Primitive Methodism can be found in the links below, and we are grateful to David for making the trip from Wrexham to present us with an interesting and absorbing history of 19th century non-conformism.

Further Information

David Young’s Website on Primitive Methodism

Youtube Video example here

Book Review: Aston, Cote, Shifford and Chimney – A Parish History

Quintessential Oxforshire Villages

Published in March this year, a new book by the Aston History Group has come to our attention, as an exemplary historical overview of the Ozfordshire villages of Aston, Cote, Shifford and Chimney. A4 size with 210 pages and more than 300 photographs and illustrations (many in colour), this is an eminently readable volume which demonstrates rigorous research in an accessible format.     

There are some interesting parallels with the Wychwoods area. Once primarily agricultural in character, the Aston, Shifford, Cote and Chimney hamlets were administered by the main parish at Bampton (just as Shipton was the main parish for Wychwoods area for many years). Aston got its own Anglican church (quite a monumental thing) in 1839 (funded locally and by The Church Commissioners). Milton acquired its Anglican church in 1853. The Aston hamlets have a strong Baptist history – as does our area, and the enclosures came quite late to them as it did for us in the Wychwoods.

“A Parish History” includes details which reflect the patterns and concerns of community life, mirrored in own Wychwoods villages over time. In particular, the special features on religion and agriculture cover social and economic developments that followed national trends.     

In 16 chapters and 8 appendices, fully indexed, all aspects of life are covered in an easily accessible way. Here is a short outline:    


The first two chapters cover some archaeological research which places the parish in the context of the sweep of history from Palaeolithic times through to the arrival of the Romans, and on to the Anglo-Saxons and finally the Norman Conquest. Highlighting for example, the Neolithic causewayed camp near Chimney, the Iron Age farmstead excavations at Shifford, the Shifford Sword, the key moments and artefacts around the late Saxon politics including Alfred the Great and onwards – there is much to inspire. These chapters end with Leofric’s Charter = a late Saxon document which mentions Aston and Chimney.  The charter places the villages in the hands of the of the Bishop of Exeter, a situation confirmed at the Norman conquest and continuing until the 18th Century.           

Two later chapters in the book are devoted specifically to the origins and key developments of the villages of Shifford and Chimney, again with lavish illustrations using maps, photos and diagrams.    

Farming and Enclosure     

The chapter on agriculture describes the changing landscape precipitated by the Enclosures Act finalised in 1855, the culmination of a process which had affected parishes throughout the country for a considerable period. Aston’s enclosures were sealed in 1852 and were among the last to be affected. Described in some detail are the earlier “open fields” systems operating at least since the 13th century, with later records of names and activities as well as example field plans.     

Of particular interest is the establishment by 1593 of a group of parishioners called The Sixteens, elected annually, who oversaw the regulation of farming activity – and so uniquely outside of direct Manorial control which was the normal pattern. The research covers in some detail the post-enclosure life on the land and the effects of the Corn Laws, agricultural depression, and the activities of the Agricultural Labourers Union, familiar to students of life in the Wychwoods in those times. This chapter ends with fine images of the changes which continued in farming practice during the 20th century, with several anecdotes around the introduction of mechanisation.    

Trades, Occupations, Services and Shops    

This chapter includes a panoply of images of early to mid-20th Century working life. Thatchers, Carpenters, Blacksmiths, Aston Wood Yard and the Wagon Works are all covered. Maltsters, Tanners, Brickmakers and many more are described, with photographs which highlight a thriving community at work.          

The Poor    

The chapter on poverty and need throws up a great deal of interesting detail on how many parishioners made provision in their wills for the poor and needy. Examples are given, as well as descriptions of charitable trusts and friendly societies. Of course, as throughout the country, the parish was the provider of last resort, either through the workhouse system, or through “poor relief” to supplement low wages.     

A fascinating picture is built up of the developments around assistance for the poor. This includes the arrival of Friendly Societies, including Aston’s Slate Club which was the last of the Friendly Societies to operate before the gradual changes brought about by an emerging welfare state from the early 20th century. Charming to see is a picture of and elderly couple, dressed in their best clothes – the first couple in Aston to draw the Old Age Pension.    

Law and Order    

Several examples are given of cases of varying criminal severity to show the various levels of misdemeanour tried in Petty Sessions, Quarter Sessions or Assize courts. A picture emerges of a law-abiding parish, with the main crimes linked to poverty. Included in the discussion of law and order is a short synopsis of its funding and development over the centuries, culminating in the creation of a national police force and the installation of Aston’s first police constable in 1857.                     


Images of transport through the years include maps, drawings of river transport including flash locks and river barges. The mobility or otherwise of parishioners is examined, with notes of bus transport and the coming of the railways.                    


We learn that surprisingly there was no dedicated parish church for the villages, and worshippers for the most part went to services in Bampton before the building of St James Church from 1839. Mapped onto a discussion on Wycliffe’s Bible, the development of non-conformist faith is well covered. An outline of non-conformist activity from the mid-17th century and earlier gives a picture a diversity of religious worship and practice, which can be understood as a function of the looser Manorial control alluded to in the chapter on agriculture and farming. Several pages are dedicated to the building of the parish church and describe its highlights.                   

Education & The Aston Training School    

The development of school and education facilities from the mid-1700s to the present day is covered. There are plenty of illustrations, photos and discussions around the challenges all villages faced over the financing and structure of regular school facilities, These affected the poor as well as the better off. Particularly interesting are direct quotations from the reports of school inspectors over time, and anecdotes of some interesting behaviour amongst pupils. Jane Clarke’s training school for girls in service has its own chapter. This establishment, created in the late 19th century, became well-known as a training centre for girls otherwise ill-equipped for the rigours and skills of life in service.    


A lively chapter featuring the panoply of leisure activities to be had in the past 150 years are covered, including Aston Feast and the annual cherry fairs, plus of course activities around the public houses and organised singing and dancing. Copiously illustrated with memorabilia images, there is plenty of material around the several Coronation and Jubilee celebrations in the villages. Many photos of more recent events, especially sports and river-based activities make for an entertaining profile of village life.    


The changing needs and fashions which caused alterations and extensions to buildings over the years is the subject of a chapter which also illustrates a timeline of village expansion and infill. This reflects the lived experience of villages throughout the country. Here, the various housing types are described and illustrated with reference to available local building materials. An inventory is included of the many Listed properties in the four villages.    

The Parish at War 

Common ground with the Wychwoods is found with the descriptions of events around the arrival of Basque refugees in Aston during the Spanish Civil war, as well as the in-depth descriptions of World War II evacuees, activities and privations, which reflect those described in our own publication “That’s How It Was”. Also covered are the effects and key events of the English Civil War, echoes of the Napoleonic Wars and of course the Great War.     


These are – as is the whole publication – well-researched. In particular, the war memorial biographies of the fallen are expressive of a felt gratitude. Sections on population changes as well as lists of incumbent head teachers and ministers of religion over time are carefully recorded. We are even given a full list of the pub landlords past and present in the villages.    

There is much to recommend this beautifully researched parish history. It reads as a fascinating story but is also a valuable reference tool for those who love and value the story of English village life.    

DB / JB October 2021

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Aston, Cote, Shifford and Chimney: A Parish History

Milton’s Unusual Wooden Carving

This amusing article, taken from the Wychwood Magazine where it appeared some years ago, highlights the unusual wooden carving removed during the old Mission Room renovations in Milton.

The intriguing figure will feature in the Society’s 40th Anniversary celebrations, re-scheduled for May 2022.

We plan to publish a detailed study of this wooden carving, which we like to call “The Milton Angel” in due course. Meanwhile, a special feature by John Bennett here includes some more information about the carving. John’s article highlights the fact that this angel carving is just one of the pantheon of Milton sculptured figures.

Go Figure!
Bernard Shaw once received a letter addressed to a Mr B Shawm. In great annoyance he complained to his wife that there was not even a word shawm. Mrs Shaw, one of the World’s most martyred women, quietly took the dictionary from the shelf, looked up the word and showed the definition to her husband – “shawm – an old fashioned wind instrument”.

Angel Musician wooden carving: front view and side views
Angel Musician front view and side views.
Go here for more on this and other Milton sculptures

Our Shawm
The great Irish playwright would probably therefore have been at a loss to describe accurately the wooden figure pictured here which has been serenading Milton for decades.

This carving of a priest or possibly angel blowing a shawm has stood largely unnoticed in a niche on the gable end of what is known as the Mission Room in Milton High Street. The building has had various uses over the years including a reading room, a bank, a dentist and Barry Way’s office.

The owners of the site, Groves the builders, have recently (2006) been renovating the property and brought the figure down from its rather exposed shelter.

They realised that it could be of some artistic and historic importance and called in Sue Jourdan, Chairman of the Wychwood Local History Society. The first expert Sue consulted was of the opinion that the figure is “fascinating, rare and complex”.

The 22 inches high figure is believed to date from the 15th century and possibly came from Shipton’s parish church.

from an article by Alan Vickers
First published: The Wychwood October/November 2006 Vol. 27 No4

The Cospatrick Tragedy – From the Society Journal No. 14

The Cospatrick Tragedy – From the Wychwoods Local History Society Journal No. 14

Here is an article by Margaret Ware, taken from the WLHS Journal No 14 (1999). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the Society’s Journal No 14 can be found here).

A separate PDF of the article is available here.

The Cospatrick Tragedy: Memorial


Shipton Church from Cospatrick memorial. Estimated 1920s


High Street Shipton 1920s, with Cospatrick Memorial

On the village green at Shipton under Wychwood, next to the war memorial, stands a stone drinking fountain with a distinctive tall, conical spire. It was erected in 1878 in memory of the seventeen members of the Hedges and Townsend families from Shipton who lost their lives in the South Atlantic in a fire on the emigrant sailing ship, the Cospatrick, bound for New Zealand.

The brass plaque on the north side lists Richard Hedges aged 56, Sarah his wife (53); John Hedges (24) and Sarah his wife (22); Thomas Hedges (27), Charles Hedges (18) both sons of Richard and Sarah. That on the south lists Henry Townsend aged 62, Ann his wife (53); George Charter (31), Jane Townsend his wife (35) and their two children; Henry Hedges (30) and Mary Townsend his wife (30) and their three children. All the men were agricultural labourers.


Photograph from a postcard of The Green, showing allotments bordered by a wall. There is no seat around the tree at this date. Also photo taken pre-metal plates on the Cospatrick Memorial. Date: c. late 1920s

The Cospatrick Tragedy: Background

19th Century Emigration from Oxfordshire: See Our Book Review

In late Victorian England many agricultural workers and their families led desperately hard lives. They laboured by hand for long hours in harsh conditions for low wages, earning on average only half as much as industrial workers. Rural tied housing was often poor and insanitary, with no security of tenure. The country way of life was strictly regulated by the landlords and tenant farmers, the squire and the Church, with harsh administration of the Poor Law and of penalties for poaching. These conditions were made worse in the 1870s by a run of bad weather and poor harvests.

The early 1870s saw the newly formed National Agricultural Labourers Union beginning the fight for better wages and conditions, but many people emigrated to start a new life in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, a substantial number of these coming from Oxfordshire.

During this period the New Zealand government provided free passages to assist over 50,000 English people to emigrate, while the Agricultural Union and others set up funds to buy clothing and equipment for the long and arduous journey, with Union officials often acting as emigration agents.

The voyage under sail in an iron clipper usually took about fifteen weeks, although newly-commissioned steamers were completing it in half the time. Animals, chickens and geese were taken on board for food but seasickness and epidemics of scarlet fever, measles and typhoid took their toll and many people, especially children, died on the journey.

However once the survivors had arrived and settled in, they frequently sent back enthusiastic reports of their improved conditions and of the many attractions of the new country’.

Emigration rose to a peak in 1873 and 1874, and during this period at least 160 people are known to have left for New Zealand from Milton and Ascott, many to settle in the Hawke’s Bay area, but until the autumn of 1874 only three folk had ventured from Shipton. Then Richard Hedges and Henry Townsend with their wives and families joined 400 other emigrants and 44 crew on the Cospatrick which sailed from Blackwall Dock in London on 11 September bound for Auckland.

About the Cospatrick

This engraving of the Cospatrick appeared in the Illustrated London News 19 January 1875. Reproduced with kind permission of Mr R R William

This engraving of the Cospatrick appeared in the Illustrated London News 19 January 1875. Reproduced with kind permission of Mr R R William

The Cospatrick was a two-decked, full-rigged wooden ship of about 1,200 tons, owned by Shaw Savill & Co, which had transported thousands of people during the previous nine years without incident. It had recently been inspected and pronounced sound. In addition to the passengers and their stores (which included coal for cooking and heating), it now carried iron rails and cement, and an inflammable cargo of linseed oil, turpentine and varnish, candles, rum, brandy, wine and beer. Fire precautions were strictly enforced, fires and lights being lit only by the cook and stewards while the emigrants themselves carried out fire-watch duty.

The Fire on the Cospatrick

Nevertheless fire broke out just after midnight on 17 November near the boatswain’s locker, and spread quickly. Panic ensued and most people died in the inferno or drowned when they jumped from the blazing ship, which sank after two days. Only two of the ship’s four lifeboats got away, laden with emigrants and crew. They were over 700 miles from the Cape of Good Hope and without food or drink, mast, sail or compass. After three days one boat drifted out of sight. The other was sighted by a passing ship after ten days but only four people, three of them crew members, were still alive. The remaining emigrant died after being rescued.

Aftermath of the Cospatrick Tragedy

This appalling tragedy shocked the nation. The Board of Trade enquiry later concluding that the fire probably started as a result of someone attempting to raid the liquor store. It was one of the worst maritime disasters of the century and probably contributed to the waning of interest in emigration thereafter. The steady drain of the labour force had also begun to concern farmers at home, and was providing a stronger bargaining position for the Agricultural Union to secure better wages and working conditions for its members, so there was now less incentive to leave.

In 1877 a committee in Shipton under Wychwood raised £70 towards a memorial to the local victims of the disaster and the fountain was erected on the green a year later. As time passed the carved stone lettering-weathered and faded, and brass plates bearing the original inscriptions were fixed on the north, south and west sides on 17 November 1934, the sixtieth anniversary of the tragedy. A fourth brass was also added, on the east side, recalling the original tragedy, and to commemmorate the coronation of King Edward VII in 1901.

The inscription on the west side reads:

Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.
John, Ch. IV v. 13 and 14

Rollo Arnold, The Farthest Promised Land, Victoria University Press, Wellington, New Zealand 1981. Dr Arnold portrays the national picture of emigration to New Zealand and the role of the infant trade unions.

R.R. Williams, The Survival of Twin Pen-Stryd, Cymgen (Wales), Anglesey 1975. The story of the disaster and the amazing survival of Able Seaman Thomas Lewis of Anglesey.

Wychwoods History No. 3,1987, pp45-52 gives an account of the social and agricultural conditions of the time. See the article here, or download as a PDF here.

A Wychwoods Farming Year 1854–55 | From the Archive

Here is an extended piece by Wendy and Jim Pearse, taken from the WLHS Journal No 15 (2000). We republish it here as part of an occasional series celebrating the work of the Society over time. (A PDF of the Society’s Journal No 15 can be found here).

The farming year begins in the autumn after harvest. The previous crops are carried and stacked and the land lies waiting, in anticipation of the next agricultural cycle.

The sowing month for autumn crops. The soil has been ploughed and harrowed to a tilth suitable to receive the seed. Sacks of corn, a half peck measure, guide flags and a seed lip are taken to the field in a horse drawn cart. The sower can then set up his first flag near the straightest traverse of the field.

He begins his measured pace across the field, the seed lip of corn filled by the half peck measure, suspended from his shoulders by leather straps, each handful of seed cast in a sweeping arch in concert with the rhythm of his pace. Flags are regularly moved into position to guide his progress across the field.

The crop may be wheat, rye, beans or vetches and once the sowing is completed, horses will drag the harrows over the field to cover the seed. Hopefully soil conditions will be on the dry side, sticky mud on boots makes heavy going and several miles may need to be walked in one day.

A number of trains run through the valley daily since the completion of the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway only a year ago. During construction the necessary earthworks caused great disruption to farmers especially in Ascott where the line of the railway interrupted the access to their fields on the west and north sides of the parish and after a period of nearly eight centuries abruptly severed Ascott d’Oyley Manor from its associated village.

In the fields the sound of the trains approaching will compete with robins and wrens singing in the hedgerows. Rooks are not welcome – their voracious quest for newly sown seed will soon thin out the crop. At this time, potatoes for humans and mangolds for cattle are also harvested and the sheep are progressively penned with hurdles over the turnip fields.

With autumn sowing completed, the farmer’s attention turns to spring crops. Large heaps of manure cleared from cattle sheds during the previous year, which have been left to heat up and rot down, are loaded on to muck carts and taken to the fields.

Once unloaded into a number of heaps, the labourers can then use their four tined forks to spread an even layer across the land ready to be ploughed in. Robins frequently appear alongside the labourers, their bright eyes scanning eagerly for worms. Autumn fogs and frosts can create an eerie atmosphere to this task with steaming manure and the misty breath of men and horses rising up into the air.

This month also sees the harvesting of swedes for sheep fodder and carrots for human consumption. Maintenance jobs are undertaken. Road repairs, field drainage operations and the important winter occupations, hedge laying to maintain stockproof hedges and ditch clearing to ensure the free flow of field drains.

The month for winter ploughing. Although the use of individual strips to denote ownership is no longer required due to the recent enclosures, the time honoured practise of maintaining the ridge and furrow system is still continued. Ridge and furrow aids surface drainage and ensures at least a reasonable crop on the ridges in a wet season and the furrows in a dry season.

The ploughman will position his ploughteam, probably horses but oxen may still be used, on the field headland in line with the first ridge. The first plough furrow will be cut along the top of the ridge, the share making the horizontal cut about five inches below the surface while the coulter makes the vertical side cut and the mould board turns the furrow slice over to the right hand side of the plough.

The ploughteam proceeds around the ridge in a clockwise direction ensuring the soil is turned uphill to maintain the ridge. The ploughman needs to keep a firm grip to steady the plough against the thrust of the soil which will tend to force the plough sideways downhill.

When the ploughing on this ridge is completed and the furrow opened, the ploughman will commence on the top of the next ridge. The headlands will be ploughed last to complete the field. An acre a day will be the ploughman’s aim in which time he will walk about ten miles.

During ploughing rooks may perform their only deed of assistance to the farmers. Following closely behind the ploughman, they will consume from each furrow, quantities of wireworms and other insect grubs and larvae which would otherwise remain active in the soil and cause damage to the spring crop. Hopefully the ensuing months will bring some frost and snow to break down the soil to a fine tilth to form the seedbed for the spring corn.

Throughout the winter, cows, calves and fattening cattle will be kept in stalls and yards, their foodstuffs carried to them at regular times during the day. They will also need to be provided with a supply of water and bedding straw.

With land work possibly held in abeyance by the weather, threshing the last season’s crop is the main occupation for the agricultural labourers in the large threshing barns. A sheaf of wheat is spread out on the threshing floor and two men working to a rhythm alternately beat the ears of corn with flails, to knock out the grains. Certainly not an easy task and one that requires a large amount of elbow grease.

Once the ears are empty, the straw is collected and stacked and the grain is shovelled up ready for winnowing. The high wide doorways not only give access to horses and waggons but create a good through draught which is part of the winnowing process. Shovels of corn are thrown up into the air so that the draught will blow the dust and chaff away from the grains.

Threshing and winnowing are hard monotonous tasks lasting several months but necessary to acquire the new seed to sow, animal feed and grain for sale.An alternative job during drier spells is the spreading of very short well-rotted manure on pasture land to aid early spring growth of grass.

Fills the dyke, either black or white. Often the month causing the most awkward and difficult conditions for man and beast. Frost plays havoc with water supplies when it is essential to satisfy the thirst of all farm animals. For some obscure reason cattle especially seem to drink more in frosty weather. Frozen mangold clamps cause problems with sheep fodder. Eggs crack in the nestboxes of hens. And any delayed land work can be impossible to pursue, especially when temperatures remain constantly below freezing.

Snow causes problems with movement of animals and other goods and roads may become impassable or slippery. It may be necessary for the horses to be fitted with snowshoes – a type of horseshoe with protruding nails that gives a horse some measure of grip in snow and ice.

This month may well be an extremely busy time for blacksmiths since the shoes will need to be changed as required, depending on the variations of the weather.

The busiest time of year for shepherds and a fickle month for weather – cold, wet, windy or all three. Time to build a lambing pen, constructed of hurdles, windproofed with straw cladding and well-littered with bedding straw. The more protection provided for the new-born lambs, the greater the number that will survive and as shepherds are often paid per lamb, a successful lambing season is important for both shepherd and farmer.

Shepherding is a lonely job with little sleep during the peak of the season, the shepherd continually patrolling his flock using only the soft glow of his horn lantern to avoid scaring the ewes. Odd moments are spent in his hut or shelter where a drop of whisky and warmth will possibly revive the shepherd as well as poorly lambs.

March is also the month for spring sowing when all types of crops are sown including oats for horse feed, barley and carrots for humans and grass, clover and vetches for hay.

When many crops are beginning to germinate in the fields, the blight of the farmers’ lives is crows, rooks and jackdaws. With young birds in their nests to feed, a continual shuttle service is carried out by the parent birds which in a large flock can decimate a corn crop in a matter of days.

The prime deterrent is a crow scarer, preferably human, a young lad with a rattle and a loud voice. Not a pleasant job by any means, cold, tiring and monotonous and very poorly paid, but an extremely necessary addition to the farming structure.

Another type of aid comes in the form of peewits (lapwings or plovers), the farmers’ friend. Peewits nests with eggs will be left carefully undisturbed amongst the emerging crops because of the parent birds’ determined protection of their young.

At the sight of an approaching marauder (rook or crow) they will soar into the air and fearlessly dive at the predator until it retreats. A field with two or three peewits’ nests can be left to the birds to defend.

With the remaining crops of potatoes and mangolds safely planted, attention turns to livestock. The larger cattle will be turned out into the pastures and horses and carts will transfer the manure from pens and sheds to the expanding heap in the field.

With a fresh growth of spring grass and herbs in the pastures, the young calves can be turned out. Here they can exhibit the natural exuberance of the young and free, by all means of exercise, racing, jumping and kicking up their heels with pure pleasure before settling down to experience the new sensation of eating fresh young grass. With bulging sides and tired limbs they can, at the end of the day, retreat to their resting shelters and chew their cuds, enjoying the grass for the second time.

But farm labourers are less fortunate at this time since a major monotonous occupation is the elimination of weeds in the crops. It is performed mostly by hand, hoeing through long hours of daylight, although some horsehoes may be used in the root crops. Some consolation is the rippling song of numerous skylarks rising and falling overhead.

The hoeing of crops continues and turnips are sown for autumn feed for sheep. But now is the time for shearing the sheep when the rise in the wool indicates the natural time to shed the fleece. Washing the sheep in the wash pools ensures a clean fleece which fetches a higher price.

But whether the loss of dirt will reduce the weight sufficiently to negate the extra value is debatable. Washing which involves rubbing and squeezing to rid the fleece of as much dirt as possible occurs several days before shearing and both processes are accompanied by a tremendous amount of bleating from lambs who are temporarily separated from their mothers, to keep them out of harm’s way while their mothers are attended to. Hand-shears are used, a skilled man can shear four sheep in an hour.

Occasionally a cut will occur which is instantly treated with Stockholm tar to cauterize the wound. The fleeces are rolled and tied and packed into woolsacks ready for dispatch to the buyers.

If the weather is favourable, haymaking will begin towards the end of June, but is in full swing throughout July. The grass is mown by scythes. The labourers work in line cutting a swathe of grass which is left behind each of them as they work across the field. Now women and children take over.

The swathes are spread thinly over the ground to ensure maximum exposure to sun and wind. Later the grass is raked into smaller rows called wallies which are frequently turned to allow the moisture to evaporate until the crop becomes a sweet smelling, rustling hay. Throughout this process the fields are alive with several varieties of butterflies seeking pollen and nectar from the wild flowers and herbs growing amongst the grass whilst swallows and swifts fly overhead.

The hay is raked and built into rows of cocks – small stacks of hay as much as a man can lift on a seven foot pitchfork up to the waggon. The horse and waggon are then led between two rows, a pitcher goes to each row and one man on the waggon to build te load. No one leads the horse. His or her name is the command to move forward and whoa is the word to stop. When the load is completed and roped, the horse and waggon are led to the rickyard where the hay is built into ricks.

The amount of time required for haymaking depending on the quality and age of the grass and hopefully dry weather varies from three to seven days. Spells of rain can double the making time.

Like haymaking, harvesting is an extremely busy season. All hours of daylight are used, sometimes under extreme pressure. The weather can suddenly turn into the enemy.

When conditions are right with both corn and weather, scythes are once more to the fore. A bow (similar to a chair back) is fitted to the scythe for harvesting. This carries the cut corn round to form the swathe instead of allowing it to fall over the handle. Barley is normally left loose and carried similarly to hay. But wheat and oats are tied into sheaves by women and children with straw bonds made from the crop, then stood into stooks by the men, each stook of six sheaves supporting each other. These are then left to get thoroughly dry.

Oats should have the church bells rung on them at least three Sundays. Finally the sheaves are carried to the rickyard whilst opportunist kestrels hover above the newly cleared fields seeking the now less protected mice. The ricks are built with all the butt ends to the outside beginning by working round the stack from the middle with a deeper layer in the middle to cause a natural slope to the outside.

Once the crop has been carried, the fields are opened to the gleaners – the poor people of the district who are free to take part. Every loose ear is a bonus – free food for hens and pigs or it can be threshed to be ground into flour.

Harvest complete, it is important to maintain the quality of the corn by thatching the ricks as unthatched grain will quickly sprout under wet conditions. The yealmer shakes ready-threshed straw into a heap and dampens it for strength. A number of handfuls are pulled out and using his fingers he combs the straw to form a yealm – a thatching unit. The yealms are laid in alternate directions in the angle of a forked stick – a jack. When full the jack is carried on the yealmer’s shoulder to the rick, where the thatcher carries it up the ladder to the top. He begins at the eaves and tucks the thinner end of the yealm into the roof. Then the next yealm is put in with the big end, the thinner end overlapping the first yealm. He continues to lay the yealms up the roof until he reaches the very top.

Now starting from the top and working downhill, he combs the thatch out straight with a hand rake and fastens it down with a bond or twine held into place with sprays (rick pegs) three feet long made from split ash or ha el. Up to a dozen lines of twine and sprays will be arranged across the roof. A good overhang at the eaves and gable ends will give better protection from the weather.

In preparation for the next sowing season, the clover land is manured and ploughed to enable it to settle before wheat planting takes place.

And so the farmers’ year is complete. Twelve months of wind, rain, snow, frost, hail and sun, wet days and dry spells have passed. Another sowing, another harvesting and a new crop of calves and lambs to tend. Long days, and nights of hard earned sleep, and now the next year of unknown fortune lies ahead.

Pamela Horn, Labouring Life in the Victorian Countryside.

Glove Making in West Oxfordshire: Our May 2021 Evening Talk

The society’s final talk of the season was by Carol Anderson, who is a County Museums Officer in Oxfordshire’s County Council Cultural Service. Her talk on glove making in the west of Oxfordshire was attended by over 50 participants, the numbers including guests from the Charlbury History group.

Carol’s talk began with a reminder that gloves of all descriptions and functions have been with us throughout history. Silk gloves were found in the pyramids of ancient Egypt. They have been found in military tomb effigies and were a feature of medieval jousting and courtly life. Gloves have had diverse functions during the ages, from acting as statements of wealth and high fashion (especially for example in Elizabethan times) through to the obvious function of hand protection for hard labour.

Carol focused on the heyday of glove production in our region, which developed gradually from the 13th Century where production was developing strongly in London, Worcester, and Oxford. Early manufacture of leather gloves was a major activity in Woodstock in the early 15th century and well established in the whole region a century later, drawing on the deerskins in abundance in the Wychwood forest and of course drawing also on the burgeoning sheepskin and wool production of the Cotswolds.

During the Napoleonic Wars, production of gloves for military use was protected by tariffs and taxes on imports, but by the 1820/30s these regulations started to change and the story of supply became more complex. Imports from Europe, mainly France stared to affect home production. However, by the mid-19th Century things improved once again, and these years and into the 20th Century were the real heyday for production in the west Oxfordshire region.

It was surprising to many of us that the scale of the activity around glove making was as large as it was in these years, when the fortunes of the industry revived. Carol presented a map of the area with graphics to show the percentages of the female population in each village employed as home workers. Every village was represented in some way, including Leafield and Wootton as worthy of mention. We learned for example that 75% of the women in Stonesfield were home based “Gloveresses” working around family commitments and supporting the household budget, especially during times of hardship caused by changes in work patterns in agriculture.

We learned about the process of manufacture, divided squarely between the heavy “men’s work” and the more delicate tasks carried out by women folk. Men worked in factories as tanners, cutters, dyers and sorters. Many of these roles required a long apprenticeship of up to 5 years. Charlbury and Woodstock were important centres for this activity.

In the second half of the 19th century with the development of the railways, more organised factory patterns of activity were emerging. By 1852 for example we learned that projects in Charlbury had a thousand people engaged in the trade. In passing we learned half of the Ascott Martyrs women were “Gloveresses”. And into the 20th Century with growing external investment and the development of machinery, the work of the women became more and more focussed into factories. A more centralised logistics for production and distribution had emerged.

The arrival of World War Two and the social changes afterwards spelt the beginning of a decline in the industry which had sadly disappeared completely by 1980. Wartime requisition of factories for armament efforts did not help. Neither did cheap imports from Italy (as an example) help the industry. The reduced interest in gloves as a fashion statement or “Sunday best” at a time of declining church attendance for example, and even the impact of the improvements in motor vehicles which obviated the need for driving gloves to combat the cold, was chipping away at the market. The writing was clearly on the wall when the famous manufacturer Dents employed local skills to set up a factory in Malta.

This was an entertaining and wide-ranging survey of an important part of local social history, and was well received by an enthusiastic audience, with many questions raised in the discussion afterwards.

Exhibition of Photography: Milton Library

Update June 16th 2021: Exhibition now closed. Many thanks to all visitors and for all your comments and interest. Congratulations also to Joshua Hope and Belle King for your beautiful prizewinning colouring!

An exhibition of photographs from the Wychwoods Local History Society archive is now on view in Milton-under-Wychwood library. The exhibition features some historic views and personalities of the High Street in Milton.

Wychwoods History Society Events 2012

The exhibition coincides with Local and Community History Month, which is sponsored by the Historical Association.

All are welcome, of course, and we look forward to any comments and feedback from regular and new library visitors. The exhibition continues throughout May and into June.

Please use our Contact Us page to let us know what you think of the exhibition.

Children’s Colouring Competition

As a special feature during the event, the society is running a colouring competition for children. Featuring a choice of two historic Wychwoods characters for children to colour, the competition has two prizes of a £10 book token courtesy of the Society.

Copies of the picture to colour are here ( Click on the links):

Gladys Habgood

Reuben Rainbow

Please hand your entry into the library any time during the exhibition.

Annunciation Relief Sculptures, Shipton Church

The article contained in the attached PDF appeared in the society’s 2010 Journal Number 25. Written by Gwen McConnachie, it is itself reproduced from a short essay on depictions of the Virgin Mary in medieval art.

St. Mary the Virgin Church, Shipton-under-Wychwood

The building under discussion here, is the medieval church at Shipton-under-Wychwood, dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin. the construction of which dates from around 1200. The south porch is a later fourteenth-century addition, like so many Cotswold church porches.

The pair of low relief sculptures which are the subject of the article are inset in two niches above, and to the sides of the portal.

Shipton Church South Porch with Annunciation Relief Sculptures

The niche to the right of the portal shows the Annunciation with the angel Gabriel making known to Mary that she will give birth to the Christ child. Sadly, the sculpture to the left has been mutilated and cannot therefore be identified with accuracy.

Left Side
Right Side

The full article in PDF format is available here.

Discovery in the Snow

by Ian Sanders

The society recently heard from Shipton resident Ian Sanders with some intriguing insights into landscape changes near his home. The recent snowfall had a story to tell. Here is Ian’s summary.

Julia and I moved to Shipton at the end of 2019, and live at Littlestock, which is the last house on Meadow Lane just over the bridge over the Littlestock Brook. With the property, we acquired the meadow which stretches all the way down to the Evenlode. It has Shipton Mill the other side, and the Littlestock Brook running along the southern border in roughly a straight line. As to the house – there are no proper deeds, and the estate agent vaguely said it dated back to around 1800.

Shipton Under Wychwood 1830

A couple of months back we were sent this link to the old pre-enclosures tithe map for Shipton village dated to 1830.

( Please click the link for the fully scaleable map, which gives all the detail for what follows.)

© Oxfordshire History Society

The first thing I looked for was our house – and the map shows that Meadow Lane and all the houses along it did not exist at that time.

Secondly, the brook wanders all over what were presumably water-meadows, making it difficult to place exactly where our house was later positioned. The Evenlode was also taking a very different course as it flowed down to Shipton bridge from the north-west.

Old course of the Littlestock Brook

On Sunday 24th January the snow came, transforming the landscape, and what was clearly shown was a watercourse running across the field to the left of the Evenlode as you look northwards from the bridge. If one then compares this to the 1830 map, one can see that the river did not run straight to the bridge as it now does, but meandered across where this field now in very much the same pattern as this watercourse now does. If this watercourse is in fact the old course of the river, then it confirms the accuracy of the old 1830 map.

Old course of the Evenlode from Shipton bridge

The next thing I thought about was what the map tells us about the original channel of the Littlestock Brook. Within our meadow are what I thought were natural oxbows which fill up with water for much of the winter, and these again showed up well in the snow rather like a serpent musical instrument. I originally thought they could have been the course of the Evenlode. If the 1830 map is to be believed, this was the Littlestock Brook as it took a course northwards before joining the Evenlode, roughly at the north-east corner of our meadow below the Shipton Mill.

As to our house and Meadow Lane, I presume that these were built post enclosures in the 1850’s, and following the straightening of the courses of the Littlestock Brook and the Evenlode as it approached Shipton Bridge. Up until then this part of the village may have flooded too often to be built on, and 150 years on is again becoming a frequent event!